Interview with Joseph Stefano
Joe Stefano began his career as a performer and songwriter before going to film and television. He wrote screenplays for The Black Orchid, The Naked Edge, Eye of the Cat, and Psycho IV, as well as Hitchcock's Psycho and Van Sant's Psycho. Joe was the original producer for the sci-fi television series The Outer Limits and he wrote many of the episodes in the first year of that series. He also did a lot of other work for television, including an episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation.]
RA: Can you tell us how you moved from being a songwriter in New York to a screenwriter in Hollywood?
JS: I really felt I was doing very well as a songwriter. I had a lot of records, and it felt as if I'd already climbed that mountain, and it got me thinking about other things. About that time my wife and I got a TV set, and I was watching one-hour dramas on television, especially one called Robert Montgomery Presents. It was very interesting, stopping every 15 minutes for commercials, and very nicely done. I felt I could do that. I thought of something that happened in my own extended family that always kind of haunted me, about the mother of someone who never left the room upstairs. I thought: how could I work that so my cousin would not realize that I've done it? I didn't want any of my family going over the top about it, so I finally wrote a story about a widow and a widower who fall in love and everything is fine except that his daughter doesn't want him to get married, so she locks herself in the room upstairs and won't come out. That became a TV script. I showed it to an agent, and within two weeks we'd sold it to Carlo Ponti for Anna Magnani. When Carlo saw my script he liked it so much that he thought maybe his wife, Sophia Loren (she had just signed a four-year contract with Paramount), should get the part because it was too good for Magnani. It was filmed here as The Black Orchid.
As a result of that screenplay my Hollywood representatives found out that 20th Century Fox would like to put me on a contract, for seven years, two pictures a year. I cannot quite remember what the price was, but it seemed wonderful, and since my wife was pregnant at that time, we would have to move to LA. So everything looked wonderful. And out we went. I continued to write songs, but more as something I must do than for a career. Some people have done my songs in cabaret, and I've always loved that, but I became mainly a film writer, and just never stopped. Television entered into it. I had done a screen treatment for a drama, and it was sold to CBS for Playhouse 90. That was just about the best show you could get on. It was an hour and a half drama, all shot live. It was quite a wonderful experience for me. I won a very important award for that play and I began to feel that I was more successful than I was ready to be.
I decided to go with MCA, the biggest agency in town. They had been kind of romancing me, which they were not allowed to do, because I was under contract, but they did it anyway. So I went with them and gave them a list of about ten directors I was willing to work with. My first picture was successful and everyone thought I was ready to do another one, so I took a chance. My wife and I felt, "Let's tighten our belt.'' I could always go back to New York and write songs. Anyway, I got out of the previous contract, went with MCA, and gave them a list of ten directors who I thought could teach me how to write movies.
RA: And Hitchcock was on that list probably?
JS: Yes, Hitchcock and quite a few others that I met with. Quite a few of them had projects I didn't like, so I passed on them. But the only one that really upset me was William Wyler, who told me he was going to do a new movie version of the Lillian Hellman play The Children's Hour, which was done in the thirties as These Three. He said, "We're going to do it as it was written,'' and I said, "It sounds very interesting. It would be nice to do a classic play which won a lot of awards.'' I asked him why Lillian Hellman herself was not going to write the screenplay, now that it was going to be her play as it was written. He said that she was busy or just didn't feel like doing it, but "she would be sitting on your shoulder.'' I had this image of wonderful Lillian Hellman, one of the most troublesome women in the world, sitting on my shoulder as I wrote a movie version of her play, and it was ridiculous. I called my agent and told him that I turned one more movie down.
It was after this that Hitch called, and I was told, "Hitchcock's office is sending you a book. Read it and you'll meet with him on Tuesday morning.'' So I read the book and I thought it was kind of fascinating, about this boy and his ball-breaking mother. They seemed very interesting characters to me, especially as I was in analysis at that time. And then when I got to the end of the book, I found out that the mother is dead, and had been dead all through the book, and I had a terrible sense of this book being unfilmable. How do you film a scene between a man and his mother when she is dead - unless you want to tell the audience that, unless that becomes the premise of the movie. But then there would be no shock at the end! So I came up with the idea that the movie would be about a girl who is really in only two chapters of the book, but she comes to the motel and gets killed in the shower. In the book it says, ". . . and then someone came in, and she screamed. And the person with the knife cut off the scream and her head.'' I knew that I would not like to write that in the script, that somebody's head would be cut off. I mean, this was 1959, remember?
So I met with Mr. Hitchcock, and he seemed very nice. I didn't want to sit and do any small talk, so I said to him, "Mr. Hitchcock, may I tell you how I would do this movie?'' and he said, "Of course,'' and sat back. I proceeded to pitch the whole opening sequence that you see in the movie. I said, "It starts up with a girl who's spending her lunch hour shacking up with her boyfriend who comes from another state, and they're in this kind of shabby hotel.'' I didn't know that I was pushing one of the best buttons in that man: the phrase "shacking up'' just kind of delighted him. I am not sure he had ever heard it. But you didn't have to tell him what it meant: he knew what "shacking up'' meant. So I told him the whole story, all about her and her trip to her boyfriend with her money that she had stolen, and how she's going a little mad, because there was no way that stealing 40,000 dollars is going to help any of her problems or any of her boyfriend's problems. I really had the sense that this character doesn't know what is going to happen as a result of doing this, so I based the character on a momentary act of madness, which I used later on when I wrote, "We all go a little mad sometimes.'' So it created a kind of tension from the very beginning, especially for Janet, who was so wonderful. I said to Janet, ''After the camera goes under the shade and into the room, you’re onscreen until you get killed in the shower,'' and she liked it. I thought that she grabbed that opportunity in such a great way and showed that tension. I thought it was a breathtaking performance.
Hitchcock for some reason really wanted me to work on the movie with him. He wanted me in all meetings with costumers, set-designers, the cameraman, the man who did the titles. I didn't know whether this was how all directors acted or not, but it certainly seemed wonderful for me and I learned everything then that I know now, really. Not many people taught me much more through these years.
RA: Were you aware that there was a prior treatment of this script by James Cavanagh that Hitchcock had worked on before he hired you?
JS: No. The Writers Guild rules are that you must tell a writer if someone has written a previous script. But he never mentioned it, and my agents never mentioned it. Then somebody during the shooting said, "Did you see the other script on this?'' and I said, "No.'' His face said, "I'm sorry I mentioned it.'' But it didn't bother me.
I didn't know he had another script. I thought maybe Robert Bloch had written one, but I didn't know about Cavanagh.
RA: One of the strokes of genius in your script is to reverse the chapters in the novel. Initially, in the novel, we are introduced to Norman and his mother, and it's only in Chapter 2 that the story of Marion is picked up, and then quickly she gets to the motel and gets her head cut off. You reverse it, placing the narrative of Marion center-stage.
JS: I needed a way to hold you before we got to Norman at all. And then you cared about Marion, which everybody seemed to. I mean, the audience got very nervous when the policeman stopped her car, you know. It's like she stole the money but we wanted her to get away with it. And I thought that if I could get you to like her it would, for one thing, fix a lot of the anger I felt about victims never really being the central figures in murder cases. The focus is always on "Who did it?" And the pictures in the paper are of the suspect, or the witness, or somebody who we already know committed the crime, and the victims kind of get pushed aside, as if to say we don't want to look at them. And I said, this time I want you to look at them. It is all going to be about her. And I think it worked really well.
RA: One of the things that interests me, and I think also a lot of people who study Hitchcock, is the relative contributions made by you, the writer, other writers, and Hitchcock himself. In this case, for example, in the sequence in which she goes to the house, there are a number of aspects that aren't in the book. One especially stands out, and I think it's a feature of the sequence that a lot of people associate with the film: the figure of the cop who first appears when she's stopped by the road side.
JS: That's not in the book.
RA: Did you bring it to the film? Was it Hitchcock, or was it a conversation between the two of you?
JS: I laid out the whole beginning and he liked it. When I had the job and we started meeting and talking about it, I think he liked to see the movie, almost scene by scene, in his head. That's how he directed. When we first talked, I had thought about this highway patrolman as a kind of handsome young guy who sees a cute girl driving alone (in those days you did say "girl,'' you didn't say "woman''), and decides to come on to her. So it was a very flirty kind of scene, as I saw it in my head, and Hitchcock said, "I don't know if we ought to stop for that.'' He felt that after we had established her relationship with her boyfriend, and then that she had stolen the money, and then that she was making a getaway and just missed getting caught by the boss, all these things that he loved, that, "Now we stop for somebody being attracted to her. It doesn't hold me.'' And I said, "What if he were more threatening?'' The thing that I liked about that scene and the way it was shot, is that I think the audience wanted her to get away with this. There wasn't anybody in that audience saying "Oh good, now she's going to go to jail.'' It was more like "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Don't do this to her, don't put her away.''
RA: In Gus Van Sant's version, the cop says, "Have a nice day.'' Did you add that or was it Van Sant?
JS: It wasn't in the script, because basically Gus didn't want to alter anything.
RA: There is another scene in that opening sequence which is very important to the overall film, and that's where we see Marion in the car and she hears what her boss is saying, having discovered the fact that the money is stolen. Again I think critics have been very interested in this and feel it's a wonderful part of the film, because it links to a later scene in the film, where you hear Norman's mother's voice, also echoing. It provides a kind of connection between Marion and Norman. Was that again your idea? Did you ever think it through? Was it more like an intuitive thing?
JS: No, I thought it was a way that we could know what she is thinking about, and I felt that it was important all along on this trip for you to know what was going on in her mind. Hitch's first words were, "Well, we don't want to flash back to that. We don't want to cut back.'' And I said that I don't think we should see it, I think she should think about it. So I did it as a voice-over. It's in her imagination. She's the one telling you this. What was everybody doing when she didn't come in to work on Monday? What was her sister saying? Instead of going back to that, and then picking her up as she arrives at the motel, which would have been on the cutting-room floor before they even finished shooting it, I said, "Let her hear what they're saying.'' So we used the voices of the people playing these parts. Hitch had a wonderful attitude. If he didn't quite agree with what I was saying, he had the comfort and the confidence to think, well, go ahead and do it. Show it to me. And there was never any sense of "I dare you'' in that. He simply said, "Well, let's see that.'' So I wrote the scene with those other voices, and he liked it and he kept it. But if he hadn't liked it, I knew that it would be out. I don't mean this in a bragging way, but a lot of my thoughts about this picture had to do with the making of it. It wasn't just writing dialogue. There was a certain sense of my sharing control with Hitch, instead of him being the boss.
I suppose what I liked about it is the idea that she's hearing things,
she's imagining what is going on, and it's something in her head. Yet
also what we're seeing had probably taken place. When later in the film
we hear Norman's mother, because we've heard voices like that earlier,
from somebody's head that is actually real, it encourages us to think of
Norman's mother as being a real person. It sort of blurs that boundary
between what is subjective and what is objective. It makes that strange
voice of Norman's mother, when we hear it echoing later in the film,
JS: I never thought about it that way.
RA: There is a consistency in the ambiguity between what we are imagining and what is real, the inner and the outer, the character and the world.
JS: But I don't think the audience ever thought that Marion was imagining the mother's voice when she got to the motel.
RA: Of course, she heard a voice, the voice is
JS: Hmm, yes. I never made a connection between those.
RA: Another scene that I liked - and although you get the elements of the scene in the novel, it's obviously not filled out with dialogue - is the parlor scene, where Norman takes Marion into the inner section of the motel, and they sit down and have a meal together. I want to show the sequence. But one of the questions I have about this scene as well as the film as a whole, is the whole motif of the birds, which of course Hitchcock picks up again in his next film, The Birds. In the novel there are, at least in the light of the film, what appear to be bird-related names, you have Norman Bates (cf. baits) and you have Marion Crane, and you have Sam Loomis ('is a loom/loon'), but otherwise birds are not mentioned. Norman stuffs things, but what he stuffs are squirrels; he doesn't stuff birds. Birds become a big deal in the film, and it's not just a feature of the mise-en-scène, it's also in the script. There is that wonderful dialogue you have which opens that sequence where
JS: I never discussed what would be said in the scene with Hitch. He only needed to know what the scene was going to give us and whether the audience would react the way he wanted it to react. When I wrote the scene, I used birds because Norman doesn't like creatures stuffed. And this was just in my head, because I love animals but I am not crazy about birds. So I thought, if you're going to stuff anything, make it birds, because they're very pretty, but I don't want them flying in my face. Maybe the reason I didn't write The Birds was that it was about birds. They are very scary to me. When I told Hitch that I didn't want to do The Birds, he asked, "What's wrong?'' and I said, "Well, I have a thing about birds.'' I love them outside. But once we came home from a vacation and it was pouring rain and the house was so stuffy, I opened the bedroom door, and didn't realize that the screen wasn't closed, and I opened the door and in flew a bird, and I nearly went crazy. "Get it out! Get it out!'' I later discovered that a lot of this had to do with superstitions. There is a funny superstition that if a bird flies inside your house somebody is going to die, or something like that.
RA: Did you know that Hitchcock shared your obsessions with birds, or your fears about birds?
JS: No, he never told me that and I never thought about it, because I didn't know why he would be doing The Birds if he didn't like them. [laughter]
RA: One question I had while looking at your scripts for the film: there are a number of places in the film, as you know, where there isn't any dialogue, especially after the murder. There's nobody to talk to. And in the film we see Norman cleaning up the mess in the bathroom. In the script you describe this sequence in some detail. Are the descriptions in the script the result of conversations with Hitchcock about how he planned to film this? How did they arise? Some things are in there and some things aren't. For example, the fantastic camera movement which ends the shower sequence, when we see the water going down the plug hole and then Hitchcock moves away from Marion's eyes, is not written down, but there are a lot of other things which are written down, including camera movement. I just wondered how it all came about.
JS: What I did discuss with Hitch was that we needed time. The audience had just been cut off from a person they've been following for the whole first part of the movie, and suddenly she's dead. Now what do you do? I felt that we needed the audience to shift their allegiance to Norman, and one of the ways I felt we could accomplish that was by making Norman extremely sympathetic. First of all, the Norman Bates in the book was not at all like Tony Perkins.
RA: He was a fat alcoholic.
Yeah. So making him a sympathetic and likable young man who then has to
clean up after his mother, after his mother's homicidal rage of killing
this girl in the shower, makes sense. The main thing it did was keep
you from suspecting that Norman had done the murder, or anyway from
thinking it wasn't Mother who did it. Secondly, it was to give you time
to really digest the thought: this could be any of us. We could all
have a mad mother who kills somebody and leaves us to clean up the mess,
because we don't want her arrested, we don't want her to be put in a
madhouse. And it seems that one of the most sympathetic things would be
that he has to clean up all that blood, all that mess, and get rid of
the clothes, get rid of every sign that Mother had been there. I felt
that if it's too long in the script, you could just shorten it. I don't
mean that I would have shortened it, but I felt that if Hitch thought it
was too long, he could just cut it shorter. But he didn't. He went
along with the whole thing. You know, it was a wonderful sequence. To
me, what the audience was going through was getting over Marion and
jumping on to Norman, to the extent, which surprised even me, that when
the car kind of stops when it's going down in the swamp, the audience is
relieved when it does continue to go down. I thought: you know, a reel
ago, you were upset because you were afraid she might get arrested. But
now we're saying, good, good, get that car under there. We like this
guy. That made me feel very good.
RA: Black humor?
JS: Well, it was very manipulative; I think it's one of the most manipulative movies I've ever seen. And I think most of his movies are manipulative, because he thinks primarily in terms of the audience. What do you want the audience to think? I wrote the dialogue always by being the guy who's typing it up and making it up, but also as the audience. I've done that ever since. The key to all my writing is the audience. It's the best lesson I've ever learned.
RA: What about the Sam and Lila characters? They are very interesting. She's kind of a double of Marion. I read somewhere that there was some discussion as to what degree she and Sam were going to have a romantic relationship. I think Stephen Rebello talks about it.
JS: I thought it was insane, when I first heard about this. There was never a discussion about it.
RA: Why insane? Because it seems incongruent with Hitchcock?
JS: I would never have thought about it. I didn't feel that in a movie where you've just lost somebody you like, you then fall in love with her boyfriend.
[Editor's note. But Stephen Rebello in his book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, 1990, Chapter 5, quotes lines in Stefano's original script that do at least intimate such a possibility. At one point, Lila says to Sam: "Whenever I start contemplating the panic button, your back straightens up and your eyes get that God-looks-out-for-everybody look and … I feel better." Sam then replies: "I feel better when you feel better."]
RA: Before leaving behind Psycho: I am interested in the time when you first became involved in the project, read the Bloch book, and realized that this was the film that Hitchcock wanted to make. At that stage of his career, he had just done North by Northwest, and although he always had an ironic side, in the fifties he was still a director of romances. What did you think when you realized that Hitchcock was interested in making this novel which even Peggy Robertson felt was a bit much?
JS: Everybody told him not to do it. Paramount didn't even want to own it. I thought it was interesting because it was kind of crappy but maybe there was some way that Hitchcock would make it differently. So I was kind of disappointed. In the first conference, he said, "Have you ever heard of American International, the film company? They are making very inexpensive movies and making a lot of money. I was wondering how it would be if we made one of those.'' I think he was using the royal "We'' at that point. He meant: let Hitchcock make a movie under a million dollars to see what happens. My agent, his face went grey. I don't know why I thought this could be a typical Hitchcock film. Because actually when you look over his work that I had seen, Psycho isn't typical at all.
RA: What had you seen of Hitchcock?
JS: I had seen almost everything. This was why he was on my list. But he said he was going to make this one for under a million! I was totally prepared to accept a low salary, but didn't know we were talking about a low budget. And as it turned out, he made it for about 800 thousand, and his company spent a million telling you how to go and see Psycho. It was one of the greatest promo campaigns I have ever seen. But I was disappointed because I felt it was kind of lacking. Even if you go back to Shadow of a Doubt, which is his dark movie, it was nothing like Psycho. He told me, "Someone whose advice I had always taken told me not to do this picture.'' Yet he went ahead and did it, and he seemed to have his finger on the pulse. I think I was part of the world that he saw happening, and maybe that helped him decide to give me the assignment. I don't think he felt that a lot of the people he had been working with were down and dirty enough, you know.
RA: He also had an obsession from his youth with Jack the Ripper. The story of Psycho is something you find in his earliest films, before he became rich and famous, Mr. Hitchcock, maker of Hollywood romances.
JS: He just kept making bigger, more Technicolor, and more expensive movies, because he was able to cast Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, the top box office crème in those days. It was around that time that it became legendary that no actor would ever turn him down, and certainly I never met any actor who turned him down, and no one ever told me about anyone.
RA: Although Cary Grant started asking for so much money to work in a Hitchcock film, that Hitchcock said he wouldn't use him anymore.
JS: Oh really? That was after North by Northwest. I began working on Marnie with Hitch, and when I finished the treatment he said he was not going to make the movie, because Grace Kelly changed her mind.
RA: Did he send your treatment to Grace Kelly?
JS: No, I don't think he did. She just called and said that she and her husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco, had already gotten the money they needed somewhere else. But then after Psycho I had the feeling that he didn't really feel he needed to work with stars - although later he worked with Paul Newman.
RA: This was at the time when configurations within the industry were beginning to change, with the breakdown of the old power of the studio and the increased power of stars. But I guess Hitchcock felt that he, not the star, was the most important person in the film.
JS: And he was, in a way. I think that Psycho established that fact in a way that his previous films had not done, because it was not a star vehicle.
RA: I want to talk a little about Van Sant's Psycho, since such a lot has been said about it. How did the film come about? What kind of conversation did you have with him? What do you think he was trying to do?
JS: Kill himself. [laughter] He called me on the phone and said that he was going to do Psycho, and that he was going to make it word for word, scene for scene. I didn't know he meant movement for movement, but he did. All the choreography is the same, the clothes are the same. It was weird because I sat there, looking at him, thinking: I admire this man's work. Why is he going to do Hitchcock's film? Much later I said to him, "I wish Gus Van Sant had directed this,'' and he said, "I've been wanting to do this ever since I was a kid. When I got nominated for Good Will Hunting that gave me the power."
I thought that he wanted more rewrites in it. It wasn't until we were in production, really, that I realized he didn't want to use any of the ideas I had for changes in the script. The only thing he went along with, just because it would have been insane otherwise, was the amount of money that is stolen. I didn't think that a woman in our present time would risk her career and relationship for 40,000 dollars. 40 million maybe! Plus the fact that I didn't know where this guy was going to buy his daughter a house for 40,000 dollars. Gus said: yes, I guess we should change that. He wouldn't let the detective have a cell phone. I mean, it was like working with a control freak who just had this vision: I am going to duplicate it in color. And then as I saw some of the dailies, I began to see that he was sometimes being a little more lenient or was forced to be, because maybe what I was seeing was the thirtieth take and the actors were still stepping in the wrong place. It was strange. I liked him, I liked his producer, and it was a wonderful relationship, except I just didn't know what the hell he was doing.
RA: One of the things that does change is the characterization. Although the lines are the same, there are differences in characterizations that I wonder if he discussed with you, as your script is also about giving directions or suggestions about what sort of feelings are being conveyed here.
JS: I felt that Anne Heche was the worst thing I've ever seen, really. I liked her in Wag the Dog. But her characterization of Marion was that Marion didn't have to worry about money, she could just walk down the street and make it, you know. And she definitely played it like a street walker. When Janet Leigh says, "I'll lick the stamps,'' it's heartbreaking. When Anne Heche says it, stamps are not what she's talking about. [laughter]
RA: Let's watch the parlor scene in Van Sant's Psycho. In Hitchcock's film, Marion is maternal and sympathetic. Anne Heche, as we'll see, has a completely different response to Norman Bates. [screen clip]
RA: The striking difference to me in that sequence, first of all, is that Van Sant makes strange changes in style. The background is diminished in its importance compared with the Hitchcock sequence. But, too, in the characterization of Anne Heche, she is unresponsive. She's very hard and detached and treats Norman as a freak. There is weirdness about him. She's kind of cold. Although she's speaking the same lines, the effect of the characterization is dramatically different from Janet Leigh's characterization. The whole idea of the maternal that exists in your script is lost.
JS: I don't think that with this characterization you would even know that talking to him had made her see her own folly, when she says thank you. Because she's so detached from the scene. Nothing affected her. In Hitchcock's film, Janet Leigh was sitting in an awful position, thinking that you may not want to hear this about a person, what he's telling you. So you're offering these little bits of notions and thoughts, knowing that sometimes this just makes it worse.
RA: Was Van Sant trying to turn Marion Crane into a stronger woman, a more modern version of the character?
JS: He didn't want anything that would change any character, so when I watched dailies I wondered who the hell was directing out there and what was he seeing. In the scene where she buys the used car, she walks around with a parasol. I saw it and thought, what does this mean? You know she has very light skin, Anne Heche, and it was very sunny there, and she didn't want to burn her skin, so somebody gave her a parasol, and I guess somebody else came up with the idea of matching it to her dress. And so, you know, it was like seeing a musical version of Psycho. It was awful, I very soon realized that I wasn't going to have any input into this. He only wanted me there because I was associated with the original movie.
RA: Were you on the set much of the time?
JS: No, there was no point, it was kind of embarrassing.
RA: Some questions about The Outer Limits. Can you tell us something about the reception of that series? How did you get involved in it? Was it your idea? Did you pitch the project? Did somebody else bring you in? What were you trying to do in it?
JS: I got a call one night from my friend Lesley Stevens, who I had known in New York. We were friends for a long time. He said he was there with his production executive, and they would like to come over to the house. They came in ten minutes later. Lesley started telling me that he was doing a series on ABC and was also going to do a pilot for ABC, and ABC would not allow him to produce two shows. In those days it was unheard of. So he recommended me. Quite aside from that I had been meeting with ABC about doing a series for them. I told Lesley that I had to read the script. He said we're shooting next week. He told me it was science fiction. I didn't like science fiction, so I read the script and gave him a lot of changes, and then suddenly I was on the set and I was a producer, and we went into production. There was one young man who seemed to know more than anybody else. He didn't have any particular title. I went over to him and put my hand on his shoulder, and said, "You're going to see a lot of me, because you seem like the only one who knows what's going on here, and I need your help.'' But honestly I had the feeling by the third day that this was going to be fun.
There is no star on the show, we made the pilot, and suddenly I saw that in the cutting room you can work on your script more. I cut out a whole page of dialogue. What excited me was that there wasn't anything scary on television, and I was a Val Lewton fan who had this sense of scary movies that just chill you and sometimes you don't know why. I also felt that if I went for CBS, and said I'd like to do a drama about the bullshit going on in the CIA, they would say thank you, we'll call you. But if I made a science fiction film, nobody would notice. I got to do great stories about the evil in the world. In the fifties, a lot of this was sucked in just by breathing the air. I was able to do these movies that audience picked up on, and I began to get letters from young people who seemed to know what I was talking about. But the censors never said a word.
RA: It’s like your episode "Nightmare,'' for example, where a group of soldiers are subject to an experiment to see how they behave in a situation of confinement and enforced isolation. The science fiction part of it seemed just a pretext, an excuse for you to explore the implications of being subject to institutional coercion.
JS: I thought it was quite possible that our government would take a group of young soldiers, put them on another planet, and torment them to see how they would react - like mice. These shows, and especially the ones I wrote, were science fiction that could be filmed, as opposed to science fiction that you have to read. There was a lot of written science fiction at that time, which we were not able to use. It was not filmable.
Q: Did you have much contact with Bernard Herrmann apropos the music in Psycho?
A: He came to the office once in a while. The most memorable thing he told me about the score was that he was going to use only strings. I thought that was a strange and brilliant idea, and when I saw the movie for the first time with this score I almost fell out of my chair. Certain movies went up in value about 30 percent when his scores were added.
Q: Do you recall things that didn't make it into Psycho?
A: I never really felt that there was something to fight about. I knew how to dance with Hitchcock. If the movie got too long, it wouldn't have been very effective to argue about it. As a matter of fact, when I gave him the initial script that I wrote in three weeks, he went home with it, and then the next day he came and said, "Alma loved it,'' which was about as much as you were ever going to get from him about how he felt about things.
I outlined in pencil areas of dialogue which I suggested he might cut if he needed to, but the funny thing was that he shot every one of those outlined areas. I don't remember feeling like anything was gone. I was very pleased that he stayed with Norman and all that cleaning up. I don't remember cutting anything.
Q: One of the strokes of genius in Van Sant's film is the final shot where you see the crane rising above the swamp, and taking in the whole environment, and suddenly you see that the house and the motel are actually part of this primeval landscape, the swamp, where everything comes from and goes back to. Was that in your script, or was it something that Van Sant added?
A: [surprised] Well, that's Gus … who didn't want to have any changes.
Q: I am interested in the fact that you revisited a text 40 years later. Did you at some point think that you could improve upon it, and in case you did think so, how?
A: All these years the one worthy criticism I've heard about Psycho was about the psychiatrist scene, which upset a lot of viewers. I told Gus, instead of having a psychiatrist, let's do a scene where we go in and the psychiatrist is talking to Norman Bates, so we won't need the original scene. I thought it was a fantastic idea, to replace a scene that now we only refer to as having a courtroom kind of monologue by an actor that I recommended for the part, and was sorry for doing it! Gus, too, originally thought it was a great idea. But the next day he said to me we're not going to make that change, and that it wouldn't be right. The people at Universal are worried about a long scene with Vince talking like the mother. I thought, well, why the hell are you making this picture? What is this all about? Are you afraid that people will think that Vince is gay or what? We'll use the voice, only now it's the other personality talking. Gus, typically, didn't want to make a change.